The Greatest Hits — Populist Edition. In conversation with Johannes Voelz

In this conversation with Kasia Krzyżanowska, Johannes Voelz discusses his theory of the aesthetics of populism, explains how Pierre Bourdieu and Norbert Elias can help us understand contemporary populism, elaborates on the concept of a (Trump) rally, talks about the culture of a dichotomized world, and shares his insights on the role of culture in helping to ease the deep political conflicts. 

Johannes Voelz — Professor of American Studies, Democracy and Aesthetics at Goethe-University Frankfurt and from September 2022 through August 2023 he is a Senior Research Fellow at the Käte-Hamburger-Kolleg for Global Cooperation Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. He has recently published a number of much-discussed articles and essays on the aesthetics of populism, to which we link in the show notes.

Though populism is a topic that constantly gets enormous attention in political, legal, and social sciences, there is really hardly any research on the aesthetics of populism. Your publications offer some inspiring insights into how populism politicizes culture and everyday life. Let’s go into the theoretical premises that your approach is based on,  namely — relational sociology and struggle over status and symbolic power. How is this perspective different from many other takes on populism?

Thanks for that question, which goes right to the core. Before we get to that core, let me start by just saying that, of course, I’m not the only one out there who is now looking at the aesthetics of populism. This is what I would describe as an emerging field in populism research. The question is why are people now more and more interested in that side of the aesthetics of populism and of effects of populism. In order to understand that, we have to get a better sense of what the specific appeal of populism is and what the particular fascination of populism is. Those who are followers of populism are clearly very much enthralled and fascinated by populism, but even those who abhor populism or who see in it a major threat to democracy, are clearly fascinated by it. So we need a better understanding of the sources of that fascination.

My argument is that in order to understand populism, we need to look at the senses — how populism is experienced through the senses. 

Contemporary populism is something that is integrated into a mass mediated image culture, and that social and digital media have even intensified exponentially. Contemporary populism is also part celebrity politics. It is part of a development where politics and entertainment become increasingly fused. All of those things need to be analyzed if we want to understand the fascination that populism is able to exert. In order to do that, we need a collaboration between humanists on the one hand (here I mean people working in media studies, literary studies, theatre studies, in any field that is particularly experienced in analyzing the aesthetic), and on the other, the work of social scientists. Those two need to be brought together to get at those dimensions of contemporary populism. 

Now, so far the focus of populism research that has looked at the aesthetics has mostly focused on political leaders and populist leaders. Work that we have seen is on, for instance, the rhetorical styles of populist leaders, or how do populist leaders use Twitter and other social media, or on how do they present themselves to their audience. Those are questions that are absolutely important, but the way I look at the phenomenon is that populism is a cultural force field and it is a social phenomenon. And in order to understand populism in that broader context, we need a social theory or a number of different social theories that help us embed the analysis of the aesthetics of populism in dynamics happening at the level of social structure. 

That is where I find the theories that are sometimes referred to as relational sociology — by thinkers like Pierre Bourdieu on the one hand, and Norbert Elias, on the other – particularly useful, because they have really a dual perspective on social dynamics. They look at the dynamics of status competition, and they are particularly interested in how the question of status competition affects styles of behavior and also aesthetic repertoires. So these theorists provide pathways to thinking these two dimensions together, status competition on the one hand, and their aesthetic precipitants on the other hand. 

What are the sources of contemporary populism? Some authors point out that populism cannot be reduced only to the phenomenon of social media of the recent decade only, and trace them back to the late eighties or nineties. Where would you situate the origins of contemporary populism?

I think it would first make sense to broaden the perspective and understand contemporary populism against the background of the history of populism more generally. I wouldn’t limit the discussion to contemporary populism.

If I were to give you an answer to that question, I would say contemporary populism in Western societies is ultimately a response to the revolutions of the 1960s. 

It takes a couple of decades until that response becomes thoroughly fleshed out and it does so in different places at different times. I am by training an American Studies scholar. My focus is very much on the United States, though not exclusively. And if you ask me about where contemporary populism has its roots, I would point you to figures like George Wallace, who was a political figure in the South in the 1960s and 1970s. He was clearly an early point at which populism as we see it today took shape. But I do want to look back at the larger historical purview because that gives us a better sense of how populism actually relates to democracy, and whether democracy and populism are separate phenomena, or whether they are linked. To me it is a crucial question for any analysis of populism, particularly when it comes to analyses that we see today, when we often hear that populism is a threat to democracy, as if those two things were completely separate.

Is populism a phenomenon that is somehow linked to democracy, as Margaret Canovan famously argued, or is it detrimental to democracy? If it is detrimental, in what ways? 

I see populism as deeply ingrained in democracy. If we go back to the 19th century and to observers of democracy at that time, we get a pretty clear idea of where that link between democracy and populism lies. One particularly interesting figure to look at in this context is Alexis De Tocqueville, who traveled through the United States in the early 1830s and observed American democracy not only as a political system, but really as a way of life. From his observations we can really learn a lot. 

The first point that we can take from Tocqueville is that he says when you move from a feudal society organized by a very clear-cut hierarchical, feudal-rank structure, and you move to a democratic post-rank society, you have a very interesting phenomenon. People begin to embrace equality as a chief norm around which they organize their lives. It regards not just their lives in politics, but their everyday lives in their relations with the people around them, etc. 

Now, what he notices is that in democracy, equality becomes something like a passion. He speaks of the passion for equality. People begin to really have a deep regard and a kind of desire for equality.

In that notion of the desire for equality we have really a motivation, the sort of basic democratic energy that we see in a lot of democratic movements up to present day. 

You see this in social movements of groups that have been discriminated against, who basically stake their political claim on equality, on the fact that they say “we too deserve to be granted respect, to be granted rights,” etc. When you look at a movement like Black Lives Matter, that is clearly the grammar with which they work. They say: “we too deserve to be recognized as fully human. This is obviously so far not the case. We’re not being recognized as humans”. 

So the love for equality is something that lies at the heart of a lot of progressive democratic political movements. However, Tocqueville was very perceptive that this passion for equality can actually also turn into its flip side, where what you have is not a progressive movement, but rather a movement that is motivated by envy and by resentment. Those are movements that say “we too want what the next person has and we begrudge the other person for having what we don’t have”. That’s a completely different political energy, but it is also born from the love for equality. It is, in fact, the driving logic of populist movements, which in a sense all start from a from a belief of self-victimization, from a position that says: “we have been not properly recognized, we don’t get what what we deserve, and now we demand that too”. 

Those demands sometimes almost sound almost identical, or at least like the mirror image of the demand’s voiced by progressive social movements who in fact have been discriminated against. So we see that the love or passion for equality is something that can go in two different directions. The love for equality is what drives democracy, as well as what drives populist movements.

This passion for equality seems to be universal, so I was wondering what precludes one a person from becoming a populist subject, and what makes a person prone to the populist claims.

That’s a very interesting question. I think it is answered by the social theorists that I look at in order to create or devise a theoretical background for the study of populism. Particularly, Norbert Elias’s work is very interesting in that regard. One could say that the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Elias actually connects quite nicely to the ideas that I just talked about articulated by Tocqueville in the 19th century. We call Bourdieu and Elias relational sociologists for the reason that both of them were interested in relations of power among different groups. And also they were both interested in the kind of habitus that grows out of these power relations. 

Let me just say a word about Bourdieu and a word about Elias to then get to that question that you just asked. Namely, why is it that people in a certain situation tend to follow the track of resentment rather than progressive democracy? With Bourdieu we can recognize that populist cultural expression privileges the low. That’s a phrase that the political theorist and scholar of populism Pierre Ostiguy uses. He says that populism is characterized by “flaunting the low.” By the low we mean that in social space in any society you have a hierarchy between what is regarded as high and what is regarded as low. That changes from society to society. So there’s nothing that is universally recognized as low. Those things are usually culturally specific, but you do have that hierarchy between high and low in societies. 

Populists say we have been denigrated, we have been put on the low end of society and we embrace the low — but we embrace the low by saying we want the low to be recognized as something that is not shameful. We don’t want to be ashamed of who we are. This is what Bourdieu allows us to see; populists say: we are low, but we are good.

And in fact, the reason why we are good is because we are low. Because in the low we find the true spirit, the true people. They reside in the practices, in the tastes, in the perceptions of the low. 

I think that’s what Bourdieu is super helpful for understanding. Elias adds a second dimension to this. With Elias we can see not only distinctions between high and low, but we can also see the changing dynamics between high and low. He is interested in what happens to habitus — what happens to the way people perceive the world, express themselves, etc.— when the power relations between the high and the low change. 

Elias says that there is a logic he calls informalization. By informalization he means that the standards of behavior since the 18th century in Western societies have become less firmly scripted. They have become, in a sense, informal, less firmly scripted, more situation-based, more of a something that has to be judged by each individual. Each individual has to find out how to properly behave in a situation. The reason why that is the case is because the status differentials between those who are the most powerful and those who are the least powerful have become smaller than before. Elias isn’t saying that we are living a society that is egalitarian — that wouldn’t make sense. Rather he means to say that in democratic societies the differentials between high and low are more flexible. We do live in societies in which the differentials between high and low becomes smaller and this is translated into an informal style. 

We can see this in everyday life all the time, for example, if you look at something that used to be very formal until very recent times — let’s say news shows on television. A couple weeks ago, the CNN host, Don Lemon, appeared in a hoodie, and that created a lot of buzz. All of a sudden, you have a CNN host no longer wearing a suit, but a hoodie. A similar thing happened recently on a little smaller scale with German public newscasters. At least one of them stopped wearing a tie. Big thing. But it is an example of informalization, and what happens in informalization is that styles that were considered low become acceptable in the spheres that recently were still considered the domain of the high. As the spheres of the high and the low get closer to each other, styles of expression that were once in one sphere become used and usable also in the other sphere.

Now, that’s not itself populism. It becomes populism if informalization becomes an aesthetic resource for populism, once you have a group that has lost a superior status that it once had. 

What often happens, and this is something we can observe in the United States over the last 30-40 years, is that you have a group, for instance, white Southerners. Many of them often were rather lower middle class, but because of the privilege of whiteness, they had a relatively high standing in the status order. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement that privilege of whiteness becomes increasingly contested. So this is a group whose status is little bit lower. Their group is no longer as uncontested as it was before. And many members of that group will now interpret their gradual loss of status as a total loss of status. They will feel like now they are in fact at the bottom of the social ladder and will claim aesthetic repertoires of the low for themselves as a proof that indeed they have been unfairly moved to the very bottom of the social ladder. This is absolutely not the case, objectively speaking, but in their perception it is true. 

Then you have the same mechanism that I already associated with the analysis of Bourdieu where the “flaunting of the low” becomes a source of pride. We seen this in the transgressions of behavior that are so characteristic of the authoritarian populism of the United States, not just In Trump’s age, but actually even in the Tea Party, and going all the way back to George Wallace in the late 1960s.

Let us now go to the core. In your papers you argue that aesthetics of populism should be in fact understood as the aesthetics of polarization. In the classic reading, aesthetics is an area of taste of the disinterested pleasure that allows to contemplate an object. On the other hand, polarization is all about political interests and the clash of them. How can these two denote the same phenomenon and what is the logic behind the aesthetics of polarization?

To start with the term aesthetics. It is a very complex term that can be used in many different ways. The way in which I mainly use it is slightly different from the way in which you just used it. I use it is in the context of the Greek term aisthesis, which really means “sense perception”. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the categories of the beautiful and the sublime that we now commonly associate with the aesthetic. I’m looking at a much more encompassing notion of aesthetics in the sense of aisthesis, denoting sense perception. 

Populism, in my understanding, is not primarily about interests. That is one particular way of looking at politics — that it is about the pursuit and representation of interests. But if we look at populism, we need to look at emotions, affects and aisthesis — the senses. What we see in polarization is that people deeply care for their collective political identity, which in polarization becomes defined in terms of us against them. The interest here is really relating to the identity itself, to identifying with a particular camp that becomes the interest. It’s not a utilitarian, but identitarian interest. That’s a very different logic. 

Some societies fit this heuristic description better than others, but the United States certainly does fit it. People either identify as populist or as anti-populist. What happens in a situation of polarization like that is that people have all kinds of social identity components. There is religion, there is what type of food you like, there are your hobbies. Those are all part of your various different social identity components. And in polarization they become all lined up and grouped together, organized by your political identity. This is something that has been worked out by the political scientist, Lilliana Mason, who has a great book  Uncivil Agreement — I’m really borrowing a couple of ideas of hers. She speaks about political mega identities. These are these identity umbrellas that swallow up all of these different identity components.

What happens is once you have such a mega identity, any dissent or disagreement questions your overall sense of who you are. That means any confrontation, any dissent has the tendency to be perceived as existential.

Maybe the best way to see this happening is the way in which religion has been politicized. In the United States people don’t choose their church any longer for religious or even theological reasons, but the theological and religious becomes completely meshed with your political identity. In fact, what you will hear in church is something that constantly addresses politics and political position-taking. That’s where this mega-identity idea really plays out the most. 

It is also the case that politics, religion, leisure, consumption — all of those fields become part of this tendency towards polarization. The question is, how are these different identity components held together? And here we come to the question of identity, affect, and aesthetics. It is because what holds them together is really a shared sensibility, shared by those on one or the other side of the aisle, a shared way in which you move through and perceive the world.

I have disclaimer though. Polarization is a term that has a long history and I use it against that history.

What I do not mean by polarization is symmetrical radicalization, where we would say both the right and the left are becoming equally radical. 

That’s not the case. In fact, if we are thinking in terms of radicalization, I would say that is visible much more strongly on the right than the left. Maybe a better term, but not yet an established one, to describe it is a dichotomization. What I mean is that society increasingly falls into two camps, and it’s not necessarily a matter of how radical those two camps are. What you see in the United States, as a prime example, is that the liberal camp actually is pushed into a role where it tries to conserve the system as it is, it tries to uphold standards of behavior, it goes by the logic of “when they go low, we go high”, as Michelle Obama put it. Whereas the right is the side that moves in the direction of transgressive tearing down the system and all of the norms and standards. In a sense, the old association of the left with revolution and the right with conservatism becomes turned around.

We can take some other examples of how the aesthetics of populism operates. You mentioned in your article the rallies that were organized, and still are organized by Donald Trump. 

The rally is an interesting format because it is so central. It has a fundamental importance for populism. The rally, of course, also has a long history and it goes back to other forms of non-democratic politics, as well as democratic politics. When we think of rallies, for instance, we immediately think of the Nazi Nuremberg rallies, but they look and feel very differently from a Trump rally.

So what is a Trump rally about? Well, it touches on something that has been expressed by many populist leaders, maybe most famously by Hugo Chávez, who had a slogan that he repeated over and over — “I am the people”.

There’s something very interesting in this claim. “I am the people,” namely, the leader claims to be the embodiment of the people rather than the representative of the people. And there is something in the populist imagination that has to do with the leader and the people forming a deeply ingrained unit. 

Now, in politics such a unit is very difficult to maintain. You can usually experience that on the campaign trail for a couple of minutes, but then eventually, once you have voted and your person has been elected, that person goes to the Capitol, of maybe the White House. Once that person is in the Capitol, well, that person will represent you or not, depending on whether you voted for the person or not. At that moment, it is very clear that it is no longer a relation of unity. But for populists, that’s a real problem. 

Populists base their entire political legitimacy on the claim that populists are the movement of the real people and they differentiate themselves from what they think of as the elites. When you have a populist in power, that populist is immediately under the suspicion of becoming a traitor and no longer being part of the people, but rather being part of the elites, which is the worst thing that could happen to a populist leader. That explains why somebody like Donald Trump has basically been on a perennial campaign trail. He has never really stopped his rallies because he constantly needs to reaffirm to his followers that he is still one with them and that explains really why this format is so crucial for the whole movement of populism. 

It becomes very interesting to look at how these moments of felt unity between followers and leader are actually made to happen. This is where we need a very close analysis of the aesthetics of the rally. Here what I mean by the aesthetic is something, again, slightly different because here we need to analyze the performative aesthetics, almost like theatre critics would do. What is crucial about the rally is, for instance, where the bodies are positioned in the room. What is recognizable about most Trump rallies is that Trump is not at one end of the room on stage, but rather he is positioned in the middle, almost like in a boxing arena. He is surrounded by the people — that already creates more of a sense like he is in the middle of the people, he is part of them. But that’s only one little example. 

If you want to understand the aesthetics of the Trump rally and how the effect of unity is created, you need to look the choreography of the parts played by leader and followers, and that’s very interesting. There is a kind of a call-and-response structure going on that is often very reminiscent of rock concerts.

In fact, Donald Trump was always very keen on pointing out the similarity between himself and a rock star, and he often described his favorite slogans like greatest hits — like Drain the Swamp, Build that Wall.

He would in fact use these slogans like a rock star who plays his greatest hits and has his audience sing the chorus. He still does this. In those moments, his audience members become the main actors and chant the slogan together, while he takes a step back. That’s a crucial technique for creating these moments of unity. Like a rock star, really. 

That description is apt in many ways because it shows you that the role of the political follower has very much changed. The political follower in a populist setup is now a fan. Fan culture and political culture — they have really become fused together. This also explains why it would be rather insufficient to think about populism as a matter of the politics of interest. 

Do you see any pieces of artwork or pieces of culture, books, literature, movies that are produced right now that are expressing these kind of populist claims? Let’s just stick to the American culture.

This is a super interesting question. It really poses the question if populism is a formation of culture. If culture becomes politicized and politics becomes culturalized, how does that actually play out? Do we find populism in the arts? Do we find populism in culture? And I think it’s actually a very complex question and I can’t give you a satisfying answer in two minutes. 

Maybe a starting point would be to say that populism works by valorizing the low over the high. Populism works also with left and right, but the main axis for populism and for the mobilization of populism is one of high and low. Then, of course, we have established terms for the description of culture that also work with high and low. We usually speak of highbrow versus lowbrow culture.

The assumption would then be that highbrow culture is associated with the anti-populist, progressive left or liberal left, and lowbrow culture is associated with, or it would at least be something that is open to be claimed, by populists. 

The short answer is that to some extent this is really true. If you look at, for instance, the entire cultural field of literary fiction, it would be extremely difficult to find examples that that are claimed as populist. In a sense, the entire field of literary fiction is positioned in cultural space on the level of the high. It leaves very little points of attachment for a political movement that prizes the low. There are other forms that are much more ambiguous. Those are mass cultural forms — so television or mass market books, the kind of books that you find on bestsellers list.

That’s an area of culture where you can roughly say, “well, it could go either way”. This could be something that could be claimed by progressive or by populist proponents. Now, it is indeed the case and there have been a lot of studies about this. If you look at contemporary American television, you can see fairly clearly how there are very few TV shows that are watched and appreciated by both sides of the polarized spectrum. 

For instance, there was a study in 2019 in which researchers looked at two shows that had a comparable audience size. The first show is the comedy drama Succession, which is about a super rich family that is basically based on Rupert Murdoch’s Media Empire. The other show was a wrestling competition, the WWE Raw Show (that’s like a wrestling bonanza). And what the researchers did was they started looking for Google searches about these two shows. They wanted to find out the geolocation of those Google searches. What they found out corresponds exactly to the expectation that you would have, namely that Google searches about Succession mainly came from New York City and San Francisco, that is from the coasts, where you have people who earn a lot of money, who work in well-paying white collar jobs. We actually have quite a few points of similarity between audience and characters represented in the show, although most viewers were not super rich. And the irony is, the show is based on Murdoch, so it is based on somebody from the other side of the political spectrum. What they found is that the people who did the Google searches about the wrestling show primarily came from the Rust Belt and the South. That may not be surprising at all because what you see in these wrestling matches has a lot of similarities to a Trump rally. In fact, we know that Trump himself has been in the past associated with wrestling and he has himself wrestled in a show match with the owner of WWE. For Trump fans it is apparently also very unsurprising and natural to be a fan, even an aficionado, of wrestling. In other words, what you see is that television culture in the United States also increasingly falls into this polarized logic of us versus them, one side against the other.

I was wondering about this polarization in the context of professions that are affected by this logic, for example, what is the role for literary critics? Everybody can read a book, right? What is their raison d’être for some professions that might be affected by this logic? 

Well, that’s an interesting question. I am a literary critic and so I talk to a lot of literary critics. I would say in my entire career I have maybe met two or three literary critics who really – in the polarized matrix – should be placed on the right. Almost by default the humanities are located on one side of the political spectrum. Because of this, there is in fact quite a lot of resistance among progressive literary scholars to even buy into the analysis that polarization exists. This, after all, would imply that they are somehow involved in this process. In their analysis, this cannot be true. According to them, what we should really be talking about is a movement of American culture to the right. But their very rejection of the idea that there is a process of polarization in which they, as progressive critics, are involved to me rather reinforces the idea that they are part of the process of polarization.

Whole professions are swallowed up by the logic of polarization. You see this also in the legal profession, in corporate law firms who have to take side in this divisive culture war and put out mission statements in which they embrace the values of diversity. 

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be doing that, but it is a clear sign that they are taking sides in a particular conflict. Yes, it is something that needs to be analyzed with whole institutions and whole professions in mind. I would absolutely agree with you there. I nonetheless would also say that in literary criticism and more generally in literature and the arts, there is a potential to move out of polarization, to break it open. It’s maybe a contentious claim because it actually builds on a particular theory of art that, but I think that potential exists. 

In one in your pieces you argue that there is a way to overcome this logical polarization by the postliberal aesthetic. Can you elaborate on that? How can it overcome polarization and what are your inspirations for that?

I am not quite as optimistic as you just made me sound, I’m afraid. Whether I really think that the arts are capable of breaking open the entrenched polarization that is characteristic of the US today is something that I don’t want go on out on a limb for, but I do see a potential here. Let me just explain why I say that. When I talk about polarization, I always emphasize that polarization works through strong identification with either this camp or that camp, with an us and them approach to the world.

The arts have a particular power. The encounter with art, whether it’s literature, the visual arts or whatever it is, has a particular power to unsettle you, to throw your convictions into doubt, to question how you look at the world and to even cast doubt on how you create and have created your sense of self, your identity. 

The encounter with art is something that can loosen up your identification with a particular camp. It can make you see things differently than you did before. This requires that you are in fact receptive to art, that you are willing to enter the encounter with art. If you start by already saying, I’m not interested in the arts, because that’s all progressive and on the other side of the spectrum, then there’s very little possibility for such an encounter. That means that not all members of society are likely to have that encounter. 

You could argue that in order to undo polarization it would be necessary for both parts to undo their identity. But it may just be that a start is already made when that side of the polarized divide that is willing to be receptive to art begins to think of the encounter with art not just as an affirmation of who they already are and how they already identify, but as something that troubles them. If the encounter with art is understood as something that leads to more uncertainty rather than less, I think a good first step is taken. 

It’s not the answer to the problem. That would be, I think, quite naive, but it should also not be underestimated. Authoritarian leaders, including right now, Vladimir Putin, know this very well, are very much concerned with the danger that they associate with the encounter of art. Therefore, they police what is publicly shown and what is not. Authoritarian leaders know that the identities they have carefully cultivated in their followers need to be protected and therefore they aren’t just concerned about information and controlling the media.

We could ask: If the arts are as unimportant as we are often told, why do authoritarian leaders worry so much about them? I think because they understand something that we who live in Western democracy have sometimes forgotten. 

Some authors are already perceived as expressing right wing or left wing identities. For example, Olga Tokarczuk who won the Nobel Prize is perceived by the right wing and the liberal wing as expressing a particular worldview. She’s not universal anymore, but attached to one particular field. I wonder whether there are any authors or art creators that could break this divide and show us the universal message of the arts. 

This is precisely the problem and you put your finger on it. How can the arts become, as you put it, universal? How can the arts become the engine for breaking down the wall if they are already positioned on one side of the wall? There is no easy solution to that. That’s why I said I don’t think that we can hope for all members of society to now embrace art, and then everybody will rethink who they are and we will no longer have any entrenched identities. It will not quite work that way. We will have to limit our aspirations to those people who are willing to engage with art. In the case of Tokarczuk, that of course means we limit it to those people who are sympathetic to her political views already.

The readers of Tokarczuk should not only read her with the hope and expectation to find their shared political views reconfirmed, but they should read Tokarczuk’s books with the hope of finding them troubled. 

Her literary writing certainly allows for that. Those are very complex works that actually don’t toe a party line, but that leave many different conflicting and complex views and interpretations open. That’s what great art and great literature do. 

I have one more thought about your question. There are of course certain reasons why people think that public art is particularly important. If you put an installation or something like that into a public square, everybody will have to pass that artwork, and it is much more difficult to keep that art in one of the two bubbles, if you actually use the remainder of what there still is of public space. But of course, that shouldn’t be taken in a naive manner either because the efficacy of public art for a real aesthetic encounter is highly questionable. Mostly, people just walk by it and it becomes neutralized in everyday perception. This is not an easy answer either, but it does emphasize the centrality of public space. It emphasizes the centrality of the commons as something that is shared by all members, in a very physical sense, no matter which ideological camp they fall into. We are bodily beings and we do share a physical world. Public art realizes that and tries to build on that. It is something not to be forgotten. 

This transcript has been minimally edited for clarity.

In collaboration with Teodora Miljojkovic

Contact Us